DC’s public health emergency status expires

The public health emergency declared nearly 18 months ago in the nation’s capital expired at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, according to an executive order issued Saturday by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, but a public emergency will remain in effect until Oct. 8.

Bowser cited increased vaccination rates and improved health metrics related to COVID-19, which has killed 1,146 people in the District and over 600,000 nationwide — since the emergence of the virus in March 2020.

“Moving forward, while we will no longer operate under a Public Health Emergency, we will continue to keep in place a Public Emergency. In doing so, the District can stay nimble in our response to the virus and we retain the ability to implement or dial up and down critical measures to protect the health of our community,” according to a statement Bowser issued.

The extension of a public emergency will allow D.C. to continue to receive federal reimbursement funds, federal relief and recovery grants related to COVID-19, as well as implement COVID-19 preventive measures for people who are medically vulnerable or experiencing homelessness, establish or extend emergency grant authority, provide incentives to comply with public health recommendations and establish mask and vaccination requirements.

“[I]t remains necessary that the District remain in a public emergency to continue to authorize government actions to modify procedures, deadlines, and standards authorized during this declared emergency and to thoughtfully and safely respond to COVID-19 and its ongoing impacts.”

In July, the D.C. Council voted to extend the moratorium on evictions and utility shutoffs, triggered by the pandemic, until Oct. 12. The prohibition of rent increases was extended until Dec. 31. The vote was necessary in order to continue “protections” for renters and utility customers experiencing economic hardship due to the pandemic, which would otherwise have ended when the public health emergency did.

The council also voted to keep in place protections against debt collection, limiting debt collectors from calling a debtor more than three times a week.

The mayor urged residents to get vaccinated if they have not, otherwise she said, restrictions that have been lifted over the months could be re-imposed.

“Residents, workers, and visitors have a personal obligation to be vaccinated as soon as possible and to abide by the District of Columbia Department of Health (DC Heath) guidance on mask wearing to protect themselves and those they interact with personally and professionally,” Bowser stated. “However, increases in case rates or hospitalizations may necessitate re-imposition of restrictions.”

“To our residents and workers who have not yet claimed their free COVID-19 vaccine, our message is simple: don’t wait, vaccinate,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 70% of District residents aged 12 and older have received at least one dose of an approved vaccine; and almost 85% of District residents aged 65 and older have received at least one vaccination dose, Bowser’s executive order stated.

Currently, the transmission rate for COVID-19 in D.C. is 5.9 new daily cases per 100,000 persons, over a seven-day average.

On March 11, 2020, the District of Columbia declared a public health emergency, the same day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

“The spread of COVID-19 is an imminent threat to the health, safety, and welfare of District residents that requires emergency protective actions be undertaken by the District Government,” the mayor declared.

Two months earlier, on Jan. 31, 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency to aid the nation’s response to COVID-19.

WTOP’s Dick Uliano contributed to this story.

Glynis Kazanjian

Glynis Kazanjian has been a freelance writer covering Maryland politics and government on the local, state and federal levels for the last 11 years. Her work is published in Maryland Matters, the Baltimore Post Examiner, Bethesda Beat and Md. Reporter. She has also worked as a true crime researcher.

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